Ms. Barabino has this message for concert goers, “If you love reggae music, support the artistes.”
CaribPress: You have been at this endeavor, reggae festival promotions, for 30 years. What aside from the financial gain, kept you going?
Barbara Barabino: The journey has been a good one for 30 years. It has been an experience putting together this event. And this event affords me the opportunity to meet different people. I can look back and say, we have done a lot for reggae. We have kept reggae on this side of the world on the west coast. Our production employed hundreds of Jamaican reggae musicians, as well as musicians from Canada and England. We applied for work permits, got visas for them and other people who did not sing but were part of their entourage. Post 911 in the United States made it difficult to get visas, so we had to be very selective with the musicians.
March is Women’s history month. As a promoter and a woman in reggae, can you elaborate on this for our readers?
BB: I know that promoting reggae music was not something that a lot of women did. Many of the artistes never had a female promoter speak with them before. They thought I was one of their fan-base and I wanted to get into their room and that was not the case at all. Cool vibes to all of those musicians and it was an education experience for them as well.
What was the energy like for the first festival and how did it compare to the current festival?
BB: The energy of the first festival was community more or less. People wanted to be together. They felt reggae music was about who they were. During that era reggae music, I would say, was freedom fighter music. A music where people were welcoming to one another regardless of race, economic status, age, and it did not matter who liked reggae. Everybody and all welcomed that energy.
When you did the first festival, did you believe that you would continue to promote this event for decades?
BB: Of course. I spoke at a school in Los Angeles for career day and told the students, never start something to stop it. You should always start something to continue with it. And that’s why when you make a commitment to do anything, you should always carefully think about it. Having a vision and some insights as to years from now is important, while asking yourself, Is this something that you want to do for a long time?
Did you know Bob Marley personally and did you get a chance to see him perform live during his time?
BB: I did not have the opportunity to meet Bob Marley. He touched my life through his death. I knew his music and the familiar songs. I began to learn more about Bob at a gathering in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles in 1981. People were celebrating his music in a beautiful way. It was amazing the magnitude of people that connected with his music. At that moment, I was inspired and wanted to learn more about this icon.
What was the initial inspiration behind the Bob Marley tribute concerts?
BB: Well, when I was at the MacArthur Park gathering, a mutual friend came up with the idea to have a Bob Marley tribute. We went to KJLH with his idea and they passed on it, so my boyfriend and I were asked to become involved with launching this project. At the time I was not thinking about being a concert promoter. My background in putting together large events coupled with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Recreation Administration from California State University, Los Angeles qualified me and I said yes to become a part of the team. I made a commitment to this event as a woman and as an interested individual and not for personal reasons.
What hard lessons have you learned as a promoter?
BB: Well, there were obstacles along the way from a small minority of people. They said that I was not a Jamaican and that I was a woman. My entrepreneurial spirits from my father who was a businessman and sound upbringings brought me through. I prayed about it and moved on.
The festival went through a name change and there were speculations as to why. Can you clarify the information for us?
BB: It was the Bob Marley foundation who wanted to pull the name back. We had a lease agreement in place with the Marley family. The family decided to take back the name. They were going to do festivals and their own Bob Marley days. And that was fine. My production company was called Ragga Muffins Productions. I had to leave reggae for Cultural Awareness because of personal reasons. I changed the name of the festival to Ragga Muffins Productions thanks to Half-Pint inspiring me on one of his songs when I was in Jamaica. This was a crossroads for me and I did not know what to do at that time. I felt I made the commitment some years ago, so I stuck with it.
What is the feedback that you have received from the Marley family in regards to the event, been that it is one of, if not, the largest and longest living concert in Bob Marley’s honor?
BB: We stopped using the Marley name around the late 1990’s and shifted to the Ragga Muffins festival. This was one of our biggest years ever. The Marley family still works with us. They have not had a Bob Marley day for the last couple of years. Two years ago, the Marley’s were on our show and all the guys came except Ky-mani. Even though Ziggy was not a scheduled performer, he was there to show support. Lauryn Hill has been there, because the Marley’s were there. The year was 2010, Bob Marley received a Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame. This was the highlight of my reggae journey.
On the lighter side, this years’ concert, can you tell me the kind of feedback you received, on the 30th anniversary lineup?
BB: We were criticized as usual about the dancehall. And some people felt that we had too many old school performers. People that know me know that I love old school which is the foundation of the music. I am always way ahead of myself, for example, years ago I did the Old School jam. When you listen to the radio now, vintage music is dominant, as are foundation music, oldies, and music from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. You have to do what is in your heart. I am a firm believer of producing good entertainment, I do not care how old you are, how long you have been around. If your music is still good and it can be felt today, I am going to put you on my show.
How do you decide on the artiste each year?
BB: I have a partner, Moss Jacobs and we put together a hit list. The hit list includes artistes who are on tour and those available to perform. I am in direct contact with other artistes and receive calls from managers looking to put their artistes on a show. Besides, February is winter time for a lot of acts and this is not a summer show. So, you have to find out about getting good acts that will not cost a lot. Travel is very expensive and takes up a lot of the budget dollars. This is of primary concern, so you have to be conservative when you put together the budget.
There are many reggae artistes living in Los Angeles. Do you select local artistes for the shows?
BB: We look at local artistes for the show. Edee was on our show last year. I brought back some of the artistes that have been with us before including Wailing Souls and Shinehead. I received calls from many artistes wanting to be on the show and do not forget artistes who started with us years ago. I do feel that the artistes that you help along the way, at a certain point they have to help themselves. I am putting them on the show, I am helping you; therefore, I am looking for you to come out with a song, a movie or something that your name is known for. This will make my job easier when promoting the show.
It must be stressful to negotiate and navigate an event of this magnitude year after year. What does Barbara Barabino do to unwind?
BB: I pray a lot and I walk. You can only do one thing at a time. You can only do one thing effectively at one time, that’s my philosophy.
You have been active in the community for years, MC for shows, a reggae radio program, “Get Up Stand Up” with Dread Scott. Will you be back on the airwaves anytime soon?
BB: We definitely want to be back on the airwaves. This is something that we are working towards. And I know one day it’s going to happen.
What message do you have for concert goers?
BB: My message is that anyone who loves reggae music need to support these performers. It is irrelevant who you like. We have to keep reggae music out there by supporting it. I say to my Jamaican friends, anytime reggae artistes get on that flight and travels to the United States to perform, you should support them. It’s not about who you like. If you support your country and culture, you should be there to embrace th0se artistes and show them respect. We cannot just always rock to their music in a dancehall, we need to be there and show our support.
What is your feedback on distinguishing dancehall from reggae music?
BB: Many people do not know what dancehall is. The original dancehall masters are people like Bunny Wailer and even Marcia Griffiths. At her recent show, Marcia gave a big educational lesson to so many fans. She talked about some of the original lyrics and the dances that went along with them, as well as the evolution of the music. I love dancehall acts and dancehall music. As a promoter, I have to look at the dancehall acts differently now. Many of the dancehall acts cannot travel and they cost too much money for the promoters to spend to get the type of show they want. Some of the dancehall acts have violated acts of gays and lesbians. Others have had visas taken away, while a few are not paying taxes to the Jamaican government. I put total responsibility on the artistes to honor their commitments.